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#32446 - 12/01/09 03:51 PM Selfless acts
sibly Offline
stranger


Registered: 10/11/09
Posts: 7
Loc: UK
Hi there, I’ve been lurking around and just reading for a while, but I do have a question.

I think I am correct in saying that the Satanist who does something for somebody else, or for charity for example, is really doing it for themselves, for personal gratification. Maybe rather, they just understand the fact that all acts of this nature are actually inherently selfish, whereas others may be deluded in thinking they are getting nothing personally out of it. I understand this totally- I have felt good after giving time or money to a charitable cause, and on reflection the good feeling itself is for me, not for anyone else.

Is it therefore realistically impossible to partake in a totally selfless act of generosity for another? Taking the most extreme example, would giving your life for another be considered selfless, as no feeling of personal gratification can be had once the act is complete? Any thoughts?

sibly
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#32447 - 12/01/09 04:25 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: sibly]
Jake999 Offline
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Registered: 11/02/08
Posts: 2230
Giving your life for someone else? That sounds "selfless" on one hand, but stupid on the other. I know there are times when people say that a soldier "selflessly" gave his life for others, and on the face of it, it might seem that way. The language is rhetoric for public consumption, but mostly when it happens, it's a tactical move to accomplish a goal or to protect someone's flank or back in a firefight or, jumping on a grenade... probably panic and temporary insanity and over romanticized immersion into one's sense of heroics. In the case of, for instance, a secret service member placing himself between an assassin and the person he is guarding. These aren't "selfless" acts per se, but the result of training and automatic response to a hostile stimulus.

But "giving your life for another..." what would that even look like? At best it would to my mind be suicidal. John needs my heart... I'll give it to him because he's a good guy and deserves to live. Sorry... leave me your car in your will, pal.
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#32448 - 12/01/09 04:32 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: Jake999]
sibly Offline
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Registered: 10/11/09
Posts: 7
Loc: UK
I agree with you- I'm struggling to think of anything that could be really termed a 'selfless act'. I think that this thought saddens me a little, but then I suppose that is just the way I have been brought up; with a faith in people's humanity, and never really considering that when I did something for someone, i was getting pleasure myself from the act. I'm not sure of a situation where one would really die for another person, it was more just picking the most extreme example to question.
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#32449 - 12/01/09 04:36 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: sibly]
GillesdeRais Offline
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Registered: 09/08/09
Posts: 141
No one denies that people act on desires for specific things or to benefit other people. What the 'psychological egoist' claims is that when one acts on desires for specific things or to benefit other people one does so because one believes that doing so will be instrumental to promoting one’s own happiness. We can distinguish between one’s ultimate aims – what one desires for its own sake – and one’s instrumental aims – what one desires as a means of bringing about something else that one’s desires. We can then characterize psychological egoism as the claim an agent’s ultimate aim is always his own happiness or self-interest.
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#32450 - 12/01/09 04:47 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: GillesdeRais]
sibly Offline
stranger


Registered: 10/11/09
Posts: 7
Loc: UK
Thanks for the responce- I'm just about to have a read about psychological egoism. On brief examination of Wikipedia, it seems I may be getting myself into a complex psychological debate here, which isn't really within my field of knowleage!

Reading what you have mentioned GillesdeRais, to me it sounds like the Satanic view surely is that it is human nature for everything to be ultimately aimed towards ones own self-interest, and that people who claim differently are just ignoring this fact as they don't like the idea; they prefer to think they really are doing things for others. Would it therefore be said, in a Satanic point of view, that the 'psychological egoist' is correct?
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#32451 - 12/01/09 04:48 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: sibly]
CJB Offline
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Registered: 10/12/09
Posts: 125
Loc: Virginia Beach, VA
A completely selfless act doesn't really exist. Not that I can think of, anyway. Partially selfless? Yeah. You can give that beggar a twenty, and even though you do get something out of it (warm fuzzy feeling, gratitude, etc., if that's your kind of thing, or maybe an avoidance of guilt), the other party gets more out of it than you do. More or less sacrificing a bit of yourself in order to feel good.

In the case of dying for someone else, if you would rather be dead than have the knowledge that you could've saved someone you care about...than yeah, self-sacrifice of this magnitude would make sense. If little Johnny needs your heart, and you love little Johnny enough, and you (perhaps irrationally) think that life wouldn't be worth living without little Johnny...than yeah, the logical conclusion would be to give little Johnny your heart. Such things are viewed as a complete act of selflessness, but in truth, it's still a selfish act. If you believe in a cause so much that failing it would make the world unbearable to you, than you might sacrifice yourself to that cause. If failure means death anyway, all the more reason to go out with a bang than a whimper.

The only time I can really think of when someone may do a completely, honest selfless act is if they're mentally incompetent, and even that might be disqualified because the person wouldn't know what they were doing. Life is a game of weighing options and cost/benefit analyses...only a person incapable of making those calculations would do something that provided absolute zero benefit to himself.
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"To say 'I love you' one must know first how to say the 'I.'"
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#32539 - 12/04/09 07:28 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: CJB]
Room 101 Offline
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Registered: 10/17/09
Posts: 262
Loc: Scotland
The selfless act is a misnomer.

That is to say that there is no act without forethought of “self”.

No deed, action nor act of contrition could be deemed selfless.
Simple fact, “I think therefore I am”. This equates to actions that are seemingly selfless.

A Satanist (or as I would define myself), realises this fact and embraces it. Do not shy away from the fact that you derive satisfaction from acts of good, it does not detract from the fact that you have DONE good.

Only those that deserve help should receive it, but you should not feel guilt in its implementation.


Edited by Room 101 (12/04/09 07:31 PM)
Edit Reason: Fat Hands
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#32574 - 12/06/09 02:25 AM Re: Selfless acts [Re: CJB]
FriendlyS Offline
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Registered: 10/05/09
Posts: 39
Loc: Toronto, Canada
 Originally Posted By: CJB
Partially selfless? Yeah. You can give that beggar a twenty, and even though you do get something out of it (warm fuzzy feeling, gratitude, etc., if that's your kind of thing, or maybe an avoidance of guilt), the other party gets more out of it than you do. More or less sacrificing a bit of yourself in order to feel good.
I wouldn't consider this partially selfless because of the exchange taking place (the money for the good feeling). At least personally, the amount of money given is proportionate to how good I feel after. For example, I felt good after giving a homeless guy a smoke but I felt better after buying another homeless person a hot dog. So as long as the amount spent remains small enough so that it doesn't really affect me, the more spent the better I feel. Even though it might appear like the person I'm giving something to is getting more out of it, I would say this is untrue because I am getting an equal amount of "good feeling" as they are money, if that makes sense.

Now, there are still people who give more than they might feel good giving or so much that it has a negative impact on their personal situation. This might be considered selfless but I do not believe that it ultimately is. For example, here in Peru, priests seem to follow the bible a bit more than in Canada and live in poverty giving away everything they own, making their lives pretty crappy. This might seem selfless, but really, they're doing it with themselves in mind, expecting to be rewarded later on. Even though they are giving way more than they will be getting, they get the peace of mind that they will have a good afterlife. Again, I wouldn't even consider this partially selfless.

As for the rest of your response, I agree with it. If living your life without someone would be too unbearable, then it would make sense to give up your life for that person. This is a completely selfish act because you're giving up your life so that you won't have to live in what you foresee as a life full of pain. I wouldn't give my life for my neighbour because my life wouldn't be any worse with them gone. I would be willing to give my life for some family members because I would feel like shit for the rest of my life for 2 reasons: I knew I could have helped them and didn't, and I would feel bad without them. Obviously, I wouldn't give my life for them if it would make no difference, so this is not a selfless act.

 Originally Posted By: CJB
The only time I can really think of when someone may do a completely, honest selfless act is if they're mentally incompetent, and even that might be disqualified because the person wouldn't know what they were doing.
Agreed, and I would disqualify them because if they knew what they were doing and still chose to do it, then it wouldn't be selfless because it would be a rational choice made by weighing the pros and cons and they would only do it if there were more pros.


Edited by FriendlyS (12/06/09 02:32 AM)
Edit Reason: tired eyes=errors

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#32582 - 12/06/09 12:18 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: FriendlyS]
CJB Offline
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Registered: 10/12/09
Posts: 125
Loc: Virginia Beach, VA
Here's where my Objectivist background shines through a bit...with a little talk about trading versus sacrificing.

So far the only thing we've really looked at are "Hey, I'm gonna give that beggar money because I want to. It'll make me feel good, it'll make him feel good...everyone's a winner!" That would be a trade, and a selfish act, for both parties. I'm happy, I have the beggar a twenty. The beggar's happy, he got a twenty.

That's how most people (that I can think of) who regard selfishness as, if not a virtue, than at least a non-evil fact of life would view such a situation.

Now, looking back at your Peruvian priests (I love how that rolls off the tongue...), I would consider them to be sacrificing parts of their life. I mean, I'm sure they think it's a trade: give up all their earthly possessions in exchange for eternity in paradise. Hell, if that were a fact, it wouldn't be a bad trade at all. But the reality is they're giving up all the fun they can have on earth for nothing. Sure, they get a bit of warm fuzzies while they're alive, but that doesn't compare to the warm fuzzies they gave up.

Again, that's not a completely selfless act, according to a dictionary definition of selfless...but if you look at it from their point of view, where "selfless" means something like "take care of other people before yourself on this world so you will be rewarded in the next," than they would be models of selflessness. That imaginary duty that they've placed upon themselves for an imaginary reward, in their minds, makes a good trade...but in truth, they're sacrificing their lives here for something that doesn't exist.

Whether that makes them selfless people or not depends on your definition of selfless. Whether that makes them sacrificial lambs or just realy shite at that whole "trading" thing would depend on your point of view, as well.

(...damn you, Obi-Won)

I guess...sacrifice would be a misnomer, as well? Anytime some ancient pagan (or modern pagan, for that matter) would sacrifice a bull or what-have-you to the gods for mercy or rain or whatever...it would really just be more of a trade, as well. Again, it'd be a bit of a bad trade, in my opinion, but if the sacrificer considered the favor of the god(s) to be more valuable than the bull...it wouldn't truly fit the definition of "sacrifice." (Where sacrifice means "give up an object for less than it is worth." Every other dictionary definition of "sacrifice" is synonymous with "trade.")

Oh well...rambling button off!
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"To say 'I love you' one must know first how to say the 'I.'"
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#32632 - 12/07/09 07:36 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: CJB]
FriendlyS Offline
stranger


Registered: 10/05/09
Posts: 39
Loc: Toronto, Canada
I mostly agree with this post but I have a few comments again, although I think you covered most of it as I would.

 Originally Posted By: CJB
So far the only thing we've really looked at are "Hey, I'm gonna give that beggar money because I want to. It'll make me feel good, it'll make him feel good...everyone's a winner!" That would be a trade, and a selfish act, for both parties. I'm happy, I have the beggar a twenty. The beggar's happy, he got a twenty.

That's how most people (that I can think of) who regard selfishness as, if not a virtue, than at least a non-evil fact of life would view such a situation.

Yes, this thread hasn't really gone much further than the poor person being given money by a wealthier person, but I think that's because its a simple example, easy to relate to especially if you live in a big city, and it pretty much sums up what people think of when speaking of being selfless nowadays. Most people who are considered selfless are those who give to those who are poorer than themselves, be it the homeless person, charity, different foundations or whatever. Either way, you're selfless if you somewhat follow the Robin Hood idea of "take from the rich to give to the poor," so if you have more than others you should at least give a little bit away. So being selfless can go from the extent of the rich person giving away tons of money to charity or to a smaller extent, the person who is well off giving a little to an individual who has less. So for most people, the normal person giving to the poor person is a more realistic idea that can be shown through many different examples. And no matter what example of selflessness is used, a normal person who acts in a selfless way according to society, will not be so selfless as to give more than they can without affecting their lives and without some sort of selfish motive. The person giving to the homeless person might do it to feel good while the rich man might give away a large amount of money to charities in order to look good to the public. Both are being "selfless" in the eyes of the majority, and they might even think of themselves as selfless because they really didn't have to do those things, they are still being at least somewhat selfish, and in my opinion, they aren't selfless at all.

 Originally Posted By: CJB
But the reality is they're giving up all the fun they can have on earth for nothing. Sure, they get a bit of warm fuzzies while they're alive, but that doesn't compare to the warm fuzzies they gave up.

You know this, I know this, and everyone on here probably knows this but to them, it is a real trade and it is worth it, so for them, it isn't a sacrifice. Even though they are getting nothing, to them they are securing a good afterlife and peace of mind in this life. To us, the warm fuzzies don't compare, but they're all about the warm fuzzies they think they're getting. They might be selfless in their definition of the word but their definitions of words are pretty fucked up (look at chaste). Like the rich man and well off man I spoke about earlier, they might think they are being selfless, not even considering that they are doing this as a trade, just simply because it is what "God" wants them to do, but analyze the situation, and they are as selfish as you and I.

 Originally Posted By: CJB
I guess...sacrifice would be a misnomer, as well?

This is the same problem as selfless. No sane person would give up so much that it harms them without some sort of expectation in return. Pagans gave up livestock and crops, but kept enough to survive off of. Priests give up their possessions, but expect to be given everything in death. Whether or not they get what they're expecting, they still do these things with those expectations so it is a trade (they're just getting ripped off), not a selfless act or sacrifice.

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#37403 - 04/05/10 10:38 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: FriendlyS]
immortal1 Offline
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Registered: 01/20/10
Posts: 8
Loc: Northern Virginia
After having studied economics in college, i truly believe that there is no such thing as a selfless act. Anytime we "give" away something we expect something in return, and that return is called "utility". The word utility can represent anything that makes it equal to what they have given up. So, clearly, utility differs from individual to individual, as do values of anything in a market economy.
If someone gives up their time, they expect to be compensated. This may be in the form of a paycheck, or the "warm fuzzies" that have been mentioned in this thread. If it is in the form of charity, ie giving money to a cause, they are in effect purchasing utility in the form of warm fuzzies. For a christian, this charity is transacted with the hope of receiving a gold star from god when they are judged for the afterlife. They could also do it for a tax write-off. Anyway you cut it, there is no such as pure charity. Everyone expects something in return, or else they wouldn't do it. Rock stars and hollywood types do "charity" stuff for positive media coverage, and maybe they even believe that they are helping the cause. Even the latter is of utility to them, giving them a sense that they have made someone else's life better.
Satanism teaches us to be selfish first. For we must improve ourselves before we can improve others. An example might be how a drug counselor must get clean before they can counsel others. So once we have the ways and means to aid others that we deem worthy, then we can help and be rewarded for doing so.

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#53237 - 04/20/11 10:30 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: GillesdeRais]
Hegesias Offline
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Registered: 02/16/11
Posts: 725
 Originally Posted By: GillesdeRais
No one denies that people act on desires for specific things or to benefit other people. What the 'psychological egoist' claims is that when one acts on desires for specific things or to benefit other people one does so because one believes that doing so will be instrumental to promoting one’s own happiness. We can distinguish between one’s ultimate aims – what one desires for its own sake – and one’s instrumental aims – what one desires as a means of bringing about something else that one’s desires. We can then characterize psychological egoism as the claim an agent’s ultimate aim is always his own happiness or self-interest.


True example: A schoolboy was killed in while “selflessly protecting” his younger brother. You don't exist when you are a shield. His emotion was not based on greed of what he can "get out of it" he was compelled to save his brother through an irreversible drive of the human condition (the often misrepresented word "love") his own life and fear was not in the equation. Empathy is to feel what the other is feeling and in these situations one only feels what the other is feeling. Now if you want to get technical and semantic I am not interested we all know that as close as you are going to get to a selfless act is getting your head smashed in or stabbed to death so another person can live, without even knowing if it will work.

The amount of thoughts one can produce in a single second cannot be calculated effectively. Thoughts are based on the emotion one is feeling so the only way to perform a truly selfless act is paradoxically to be totally dispassionate and unfeeling, for example, inexorable nihilism negating your belief in emotions, hence all your acts in that dispassionate state of meaninglessness will learn further and further toward selflessness. To remove yourself from the consciousness of unknown others, your presence which would burden their mindfulness. Kill yourself due to your hideous nature that wishes to harm mankind. Considering we all all made up of subatomic particles I hardly think it's worth worrying about a selfless act because we are not even ourselves, life itself is cannot be narrowed down into perceivable acts because in order to perceive what is or isn't selfish or selfless we have to prove we or they exist in terms of objective reality and that is impossible since we are sentient and subjective, we are constantly shifting waves of subatomic particles that mean absolutely nothing in a dark universe of raw data.

Therefore, every act is selfless because you are not you, you are at best, somebody else unbeknownst to you that only others can see, so everything you do is for the sake of the illusory creation in your mind, so nothing has to do with what you think you are. Selfish and selfless are both illusions of unecessary thinking, we are only what is.

But if you must have morality and rationalism involved I'd say murdering somebody by accident is a selfless act. Or murdering somebody inadvertently without knowing about it.
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#53243 - 04/21/11 12:26 AM Re: Selfless acts [Re: Hegesias]
Shea Offline
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Registered: 03/24/11
Posts: 108
Loc: Chicago
I think we do a disservice to charitable actions when we agree with the assumption that somehow a "selfless act" (whatever that is) is somehow more valuable or righteous than a selfish one.

It seems to me that the medical scientists who work to create a vaccination for HIV or to cure cancer, and gladly admit they would love the acclaim of their peers and the astounding amount of money that would come along with that are more admirable than the self-deceitful/deluded "philanthropist" who mindlessly throws money at social problems while running his mouth about working solely for the good of mankind.

Give me a choice between a doctor who says, "I'll help you if you give me a thousand dollars;" and one who says "I'll help you because the good of our community demands it, and my knowledge is not mine to selfishly hoard."

Every time I will go to the bank and withdraw a thousand dollars.

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#53251 - 04/21/11 08:01 AM Re: Selfless acts [Re: Shea]
Diavolo Offline
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I read an article a couple ago which goes against all the current paradigm upholds about altruism and kin-selection but is closely aligned with how I see things on this subject.

 Quote:
Where does good come from?

On a recent Monday afternoon, the distinguished Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson was at his home in Lexington, talking on the phone about the knocks he’s been taking lately from the scientific community, and paraphrasing Arthur Schopenhauer to explain his current standing in his field. “All new ideas go through three phases,” Wilson said, with some happy mischief in his voice. “They’re first ridiculed or ignored. Then they meet outrage. Then they are said to have been obvious all along.”

Wilson is 81, an age at which he could be forgiven for retreating to a farm and lending his name to the occasional popular book about science. Over the past year he’s tried his hand at fiction writing, publishing a novel about ants — his scientific specialty — and landing a short story in The New Yorker. But he has also been pressing a disruptive scientific idea, one he reckons is currently in phase two of the Schopenhauer progression: outrage.

What Wilson is trying to do, late in his influential career, is nothing less than overturn a central plank of established evolutionary theory: the origins of altruism. His position is provoking ferocious criticism from other scientists. Last month, the leading scientific journal Nature published five strongly worded letters saying, more or less, that Wilson has misunderstood the theory of evolution and generally doesn’t know what he’s talking about. One of these carried the signatures of an eye-popping 137 scientists, including two of Wilson’s colleagues at Harvard.

His new argument, in a nutshell, amounts to a frontal attack on long-accepted ideas about one of the great mysteries of evolution: why one creature would ever help another at its own expense. Natural selection means that the fittest pass down their genes to the next generation, and every organism would seem to have an overwhelming incentive to survive and reproduce. Yet, strangely, self-sacrifice exists in the natural world, even though it would seem to put individual organisms at an evolutionary disadvantage: The squirrel that lets out a cry to warn of a nearby predator is necessarily putting itself in danger. How could genes that lead to such behavior persist in a population over time? It’s a question that bedeviled even Charles Darwin, who considered altruism a serious challenge to his theory of evolution.

The puzzle of altruism is more than just a technical curiosity for evolutionary theorists. It amounts to a high-stakes inquiry into the nature of good. By identifying the mechanisms through which altruism and other advanced social behaviors have evolved in all kinds of living creatures — like ants, wasps, termites, and mole rats — we stand to gain a better understanding of the human race, and the evolutionary processes that helped us develop the capacity for collaboration, loyalty, and even morality. Figure out where altruism comes from, you might say, and you’ve figured out the magic ingredient that makes human civilization the wondrous, complex thing that it is. And perhaps this is the reason that the debate between Wilson and his critics, actually somewhat esoteric in substance, has become so heated.

The currently accepted explanation for altruism is something known as kin selection theory. It says that an organism trying to pass its genes down to future generations can do so indirectly, by helping a relative to survive and procreate. Your brother, for example, shares roughly half your genes. And so, by the dispassionate logic of evolution, helping him produce offspring is half as good for you as producing your own. Thus, acting altruistically towards someone with whom you share genetic material does not really constitute self-sacrifice: It’s just a different way of promoting your own genes. Wilson was one of the original champions of kin selection theory, but 40 years later, he is calling it a “gimmick,” and is imploring his colleagues to give it up.

“Kin selection is wrong,” Wilson said. “That’s it. It’s wrong.”

He most recently argued this point of view in a rhetorically unsparing paper that ran on the cover of Nature last August, saying that kin selection theory simply doesn’t explain altruism. It is that paper, co-written with the Harvard mathematicians Martin Nowak and Corina Tarnita, that is now being broadly and dramatically challenged in the form of letters, blog posts, and rebuttals published in other journals. Richard Dawkins, who played a crucial role in popularizing kin selection with his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene,” said last week that he has “never met anybody apart from Wilson and Nowak who takes it seriously.”

“It’s almost universally regarded as a disgrace that Nature published it,” Dawkins said. “Most people feel the reason they published it was the eminence of Wilson and Nowak, not the quality of the paper.”

Wilson’s recent about-face on kin selection has stunned the scientific world in part because Wilson was personally responsible for the almost universal embrace of the idea in the first place. While he didn’t come up with the theory, he is often credited with discovering William Hamilton, the graduate student who did, and convincing the scientific community that the young man was onto something big.

Wilson’s initial encounter with Hamilton’s theory of kin selection is famous among biologists: The story goes that he read Hamilton’s paper, which had been published in a not-very-widely-read journal of theoretical biology, on a long train ride from Boston to Miami in 1965. He approached it with skepticism: According to a 1999 story in the magazine Lingua Franca, he was agitated by the notion that some unknown upstart seemed to have solved a puzzle that had eluded him and the rest of the profession for so long. But by the time he stepped out of the train in Miami, he was thoroughly won over by the paper’s logic and prepared to go out into the world as an evangelist.

“I was enchanted,” Wilson said.

Wilson made Hamilton’s theory the basis of his work in sociobiology, a field he pioneered in the 1970s and which cemented his status as a star beyond the realm of entomology. But over the course of subsequent decades, Wilson came across evidence that made him doubt the connection between genetic relatedness and altruism. Researchers were finding species of insects that shared a lot of genetic material with each other but didn’t behave altruistically, and other species that shared little and did. “Nothing we were finding connected with kin selection,” Wilson said. “I knew that something was going wrong — there was a smell to it.”

Wilson said he first gave voice to his doubts in 2004, by which point kin selection theory had been widely accepted as the explanation for the evolution of altruism. “I pointed out that there were a lot of problems with the kin selection hypothesis, with the original Hamilton formulation, and with the way it had been elaborated mathematically by a very visible group of enthusiasts,” Wilson said. “So I suggested an alternative theory.”

The alternative theory holds that the origins of altruism and teamwork have nothing to do with kinship or the degree of relatedness between individuals. The key, Wilson said, is the group: Under certain circumstances, groups of cooperators can out-compete groups of non-cooperators, thereby ensuring that their genes — including the ones that predispose them to cooperation — are handed down to future generations. This so-called group selection, Wilson insists, is what forms the evolutionary basis for a variety of advanced social behaviors linked to altruism, teamwork, and tribalism — a position that other scientists have taken over the years, but which historically has been considered, in Wilson’s own word, “heresy.”

For Wilson to reject kin selection this late in his career has bewildered his many admirers. “It’s sad — he’s already an enormously famous and respected scientist, and it just sort of tarnishes him in people’s eyes,” said Jerry Coyne, the University of Chicago biologist who has written disapprovingly of Wilson’s latest work on his blog. Yet Wilson said he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. “I think that’d be a pretty poor scientist, who couldn’t reverse his view from new evidence,” he said.

Though Wilson has been making his case for several years, it wasn’t until the publication of last summer’s paper in Nature that defenders of kin selection were inspired to formally respond. What has really fired people up about the paper is the assertion that the mathematical equation underlying Hamilton’s theory does not work, and that attempts to use it over the past four decades to explain the natural world have produced “meagre” results.

Many biologists find these assertions baffling. Said David Queller, a biologist at Rice University who spearheaded the letter to Nature that was signed by 136 other scientists: “At some really fundamental level I don’t understand what Ed Wilson is trying to get across, and I think that’s the response of most of the community.”

That’s exactly the problem, according to Nowak, whose new book, “SuperCooperators,” co-written with Roger Highfield, summarizes his work as a mathematician on the origins of advanced social behavior. “They don’t know what they’re arguing against,” Nowak said recently at his office, where an oversize print of the Nature cover hangs on the wall. Specifically, Nowak explained, the critics don’t understand the math, and moreover, they don’t realize that the math is the most important part.

To understand what Nowak is talking about, one must take note of the long online-only appendix that accompanied the Nature paper. In that appendix, one finds a highly technical argument that the equations underlying kin selection theory can’t be used to explain the natural world. “You want to calculate under which conditions natural selection favors the evolution of cooperation, and under which conditions it doesn’t,” Nowak explained. The equations associated with Hamilton’s theory of kin selection, he argues, don’t answer this question.

The problem, according to Nowak, is that critics are seeing the Nature paper as part of Wilson’s campaign rather than a separate, essentially mathematical argument. And it’s Nowak’s belief that many of the people who signed letters disputing his paper have never actually done the math.

“That’s like alchemy,” Nowak said. “There is no other theory than math. Mathematics is the only theory.”

While a recently published paper in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology challenges the math in the Nature paper, most of the objections don’t really go near the numbers. At a very basic level, critics feel Wilson and his coauthors are wrong to treat kin selection as something separate from natural selection. As Dawkins explains it, kin selection is not a distinct process but a necessary consequence: a subset, rather than an add-on. “What they’re missing is the logical point that kin selection is not separable from neo-Darwinian natural selection,” Dawkins said. “To separate them off would be like talking about Euclidean geometry without talking about the Pythagorean theorem.”

Coyne put it even more simply: “It’s like saying that Chardonnay is not wine.”

Wilson is not arguing that members of certain species don’t sacrifice themselves for the benefit of their relatives. They do. But it’s his position that kinship and relatedness aren’t essential in causing the development of advanced social behaviors like altruism — that the reason such behaviors catch on is that they’re evolutionarily advantageous on a group level. That socially advanced organisms end up favoring their kin, Wilson argues, is a byproduct of their group membership, not the cause.

“It’s a question of which is the cart and which is the horse,” said Peter Nonacs, a UCLA biologist who shares Wilson’s sense that relatedness and advanced social behavior are not as intimately linked as most scientists think.

The last time Wilson found himself embroiled in controversy as scalding as the current one was after the publication of his book “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” in 1975. In that landmark book, he made an argument about the power of genetics, demonstrating how all manner of social behaviors observed in insects and animals could be seen as the result of natural selection. What landed Wilson in trouble was the last chapter, in which he extended his argument to humans. That chapter thrust Wilson into a long and loaded debate over how much our genetic heritage — as opposed to, say, culture — has shaped our behavior. Amid the outcry over “Sociobiology,” Wilson was pilloried by critics on the left as an agent of biological determinism and racist science. Protestors once interrupted Wilson while he was speaking at a science conference and poured a glass of water on his head.

So far, Wilson has stopped short of extending his new ideas about the evolution of social behavior to the human race. But that’s not going to last. Asked last week whether group selection happens in humans, Wilson said, “Yes, emphatically.”

“Human beings have an intense desire to form groups, and they always have,” Wilson said. “This powerful tendency we have to form groups and then have the groups compete, which is in every aspect of our social behavior...is basically the driving force that caused the origin of human behavior.”

Wilson will elaborate on this view in his next project, a book he’s tentatively calling “The Social Conquest of Earth,” which he said will be published by W. W. Norton next year. In it, he said, he will explain how socially advanced species have come to dominate the earth, and will lay out a “reexamination of human evolution” informed by his recent turn towards group selection. Those who bristle at the notion that all altruistic behavior can be recast, via kin selection, as being indirectly self-interested — those who would like to think there’s room in nature for a more genuine form of altruism — may find it appealing.

The fact that all but a few of Wilson’s colleagues think he’s gone off the deep end doesn’t seem to bother him. “What we’ve done is clear the way for a new period of research, unencumbered by the doctrinaire aspects of kin selection theory,” he said. “They can say what they want. I think we have a much brighter vision now for how to proceed.”

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#53265 - 04/21/11 04:08 PM Re: Selfless acts [Re: Diavolo]
Ghostly1 Offline
member


Registered: 04/10/11
Posts: 147
Loc: NY
Despite the at times, lengthy descriptions of Altruism and selfless acts..... I add this:

Even in the heat of combat, personal responsibility of each individual soldier tells him to watch his brothers back, because he would do the same for me. Being seen as a coward would be unbearable. So in doing so, giving ones own life for another, however selfless it might seem is still done out of fear of regret, or guilt for letting a fellow comrade die. It would be also true if it came from a sense of duty. I personally wouldn't want to see a man who has a wife and children die, when I at the time had none to grieve for me.

Most of these things we would be willing to do, still come from an inherent, and well thought out philosophy we put in place when dealing with situations and people we come across. A warm fuzzy feeling wouldn't be one of the things I would have if I took a bullet for someone. Now would it be a faith in humanity, but a "you reap what you sow" sort of mentality. Its about personal image. No money or goods need exchange hands. The ego boost more then qualifies the act. Even if it would be an afterthought, moments before death.
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